Last month, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., literally bet the farm that former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) would run for retiring Sen. Max Baucus's Senate seat. Last week, state Senate Minority Whip Robyn Driscoll said: "I think that there's probably a 99.9 percent likelihood that he will [run]."
This weekend, Schweitzer announced he wasn't running.
The announcement shocked many inside and outside the state. Democrats were certain the populist former governor was the man who could keep Baucus’s seat in the Democratic fold. Private polling showed he was more popular than Baucus, more popular than Tester, more popular even than the National Rifle Association.
But Schweitzer's decision shouldn't be such a shocker, given the number of red flags the prospect of a Schweitzer Senate candidacy -- and even a Schweitzer Senate career -- raised.
First, there is Schweitzer himself. Governors who become senators always hate the staid pace of the upper chamber, and Schweitzer's outspoken style was always better suited for executive leadership than legislative coalition-building and bargaining. On Saturday, he told the Billings Gazette, "I'm used to being in charge of things, getting things done. ... Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate is a place where things die."
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., likes to say his best day as a senator is still worse than his worst day as governor. The outspoken Schweitzer would have felt the same chafe, then amplified it on a near daily basis.
Second, Schweitzer loves his home state, and he hates Washington. "Why would I leave the state that I love and the people that I love?" Schweitzer asked the Gazette. "God, that place sucks," he told a Roll Call reporter last month. Asked about a recent trip to D.C., he scoffed: "Oh, I was having a look around to see how bad it would be to live there. And I concluded it was really bad to live there -- traffic is bad, weather is worse. Most of the people you talk to are frauds."
Third, there is his poor relationship with other Montana Democrats. In a story last week, Politico summed up one of the worst-kept secrets in Democratic politics: Montanans may love Schweitzer, but anyone in elected office thinks he takes too much credit, blames others at the drop of a hat and generally doesn't play team ball. The animosity many Montana Democrats felt toward Schweitzer ran deep, and few are sad to see him leave the political stage.
Fourth, Schweitzer's ties to so-called dark money political groups were recently becoming a problem. Details of the relationship between Schweitzer and the shadowy groups are complicated, but the story got front-page attention in Montana papers this weekend.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee was also putting heat on some of Schweitzer's business partners. Last week, a source said the committee sent registered letters to partners in The Clinton Group, a New York hedge fund Schweitzer partnered with to buy the Stillwater Mining business that Schweitzer now chairs.
Schweitzer's decision not to run, then, makes sense. He would have hated the job, and unflattering stories in the state and national press certainly didn't help.
Tester apparently didn't find anyone to take the bet on his farm, which turned out to be a good thing. But hey, maybe he was just paying Schweitzer back for putting Jag, his border collie, on the line for him back in the 2006 race.
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